Hotel Group Fights USC

By David Axe , Free Times

Some Columbia hotel owners and business leaders are vowing to fight USC’s plans to build a university-owned hotel on Pendleton Street in Columbia.

Leaders of the Greater Columbia Hotel and Motel Association and the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce gathered on July 23 at the Clarion Hotel downtown to say the public university would hold an unfair advantage over private-sector competitors.

Association president Tom Sponseller said his group opposes a USC hotel for several reasons. “First, as an institution of higher education, operating businesses in competition with the private sector is outside [USC’s] mission,” Sponseller said, adding that USC would receive “internal referrals” favoring its hotel. “This hotel with its internal referral system could jeopardize not only privately owned businesses, but also the jobs of their employees,” he said.

Sponseller introduced two hotel employees who read statements accusing USC of threatening their livelihoods.

Adam’s Mark Hotel manager James Gibson said USC’s intentions differ from City Council’s plans to build a hotel for the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, which is under construction. Gibson said the hotel group supports the city facility because it promises to bring in new business. “The USC hotel is aimed at taking already existing customers, jobs, and market share away from local hotels,” he said.

Frank Knapp, director of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said the issue also carries broader implications. “When government starts competing with the private sector, every small business should be concerned,” Knapp said. “Today it’s USC’s 117-room hotel. Tomorrow it will be an expansion of the number of rooms and the addition of a restaurant and gift shop.”

In a phone interview, USC spokesman Russ McKinney declined to respond to the hotel group’s criticisms. “I don’t have any reaction,” McKinney said. “Obviously, we’re going to move forward getting approval.”

The city’s Planning and Design, Development and Review commissions must sign off on USC’s plans.

But association spokesman Bob Wislinski says the group is considering several political and legal challenges to a USC hotel. “We are not going to lay out our plans to the media,” Wislinski says, “but they are myriad.”

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